ASSISI — General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, welcomed Pope Francis to one of the many Franciscan sites he visited during his pilgrimage to Italy last week. The pope made the trip on the feast of his namesake, Oct. 4. Franciscans and crowds of the faithful accompanied the pontiff, as he spent more than 11 hours in the city northeast of Rome.
This was the pope’s first visit to Assisi in his life. Pope Francis invited the Council of Cardinals, the eight men he had appointed to help advise him on the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, on the trip. The council includes Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap.
Visiting People and Places
While in Assisi, the pope traveled to Franciscan sites such as the Church of San Damiano, the Basilica of St. Clare, St. Francis’s tomb, and the Portiuncula church inside the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. He met with sick and disabled children, the poor, and young people, and celebrated Mass outside the Basilica of St. Francis. Pope Francis is the first pope to visit the room, where St. Francis famously stripped off his rich clothes to embrace a life of poverty, according to Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Italy.
The General Minister welcomed Pope Francis to the Church of San Damiano, where he and other Franciscan friars were waiting to receive the pontiff. While there, the pope prayed alone before the San Damiano Cross in the same place where St. Francis heard Jesus speak to him, asking him to repair his house.
Prior to the pope’s visit to Assisi, Joseph Rozansky, OFM, director of the Order’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Rome, expressed his hope that Pope Francis would offer a challenge to Catholics while in Assisi.
“For me, looking to Assisi and to what the pope will be doing there, I would really like this to be a moment for us to step back and say: ‘How well are we living the values that we proclaim, our vows and the like?” said Joseph in an interview with Vatican Radio. “Because they are really a call to know the world that we live in and take up the challenges that we see around us today.”
St. Francis’s Witness
During the feast day Mass, Pope Francis described three points St. Francis offers to Catholics through the witness of his life.
“His first and most essential witness is this: that being a Christian means having a living relationship with the person of Jesus,” the pope said to the crowd of thousands who had gathered to listen to him. “It means putting on Christ, being conformed to him.”
The second witness, the pope continued, is that everyone who follows Christ receives true peace, a peace only Christ alone can give.
“Franciscan peace is not something saccharine. Hardly! That is not the real St. Francis,” the pope stressed. “Nor is it a kind of pantheistic harmony with forces of the cosmos. That is not Franciscan either. It is a nothing some people have invented. The peace of St. Francis is the peace of Christ, and it is found by those who ‘take up’ their ‘yoke,’ namely, Christ’s commandment: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’”
The third witness, according to Pope Francis, is the need to respect all that God has created, including bearing witness to respect and love every human being.
“From this city of peace, I repeat with all the strength and the meekness of love: Let us respect creation, let us not be instruments of destruction,” the pope challenged. “Let us respect each human being. May there be an end to armed conflicts which cover the earth with blood, may the clash of arms be silenced and everywhere may hatred yield to love, injury to pardon, and discord to unity.”
The complete homily can be found on the English Speaking Conference’s website.
General Minister’s Thoughts
In an interview prior to the pope’s arrival, the General Minister told the National Catholic Reporter that to him, Pope Francis was trying to express three things.
“No. 1, that Francis of Assisi’s message is a message that still speaks to the world today,” Fr. Michael said. “No. 2, I think he’s trying to remind us that our life as Catholics, as Christians, as believers, is a spiritual pilgrimage. No. 3, he’s not just going to visit the sites — he’s going to serve the poor of Assisi while he’s here. He’s telling us that the relationship between faith and the social doctrine of the Church, reaching out to meet the needs of the world, have to go hand in hand.”
When asked what advice he would give the pope if asked, the General Minister replied: “Be strong and continue to give the tremendous public face of the Church and the hope that the Church can offer. Continue to offer your humanity to people. That is what is transforming and making people feel like the Church has a new place in their lives and in human history.”
The General Minister emphasized that Catholics and Christians alike are living in a time where they need to reassume their Christian identities.
“We need to reframe the way we think about our lives, our use of resources and our relationship with others,” he urged. “It should lead us to feel that there are demands being placed upon us: to open our lives, to open our homes, to become much more communitarian in focus.
“We need one other,” he continued. “We need to build communities, real communities, not virtual, where people are meeting each other and where we’re placing this identity of who we are as disciples of Jesus. This is something all of us have to think of, not just Pope Francis or the Franciscans.”
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.